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April 3, 2020

2/10/2020 2:44:00 PM
Colleges put career programs in the spotlight
LTC works with local business and industry to match teaching to what they need.
Lincoln Trail College is joining with community colleges throughout the state to celebrate Career and Technical Education Month.

"Career and Technical Education is a really important part of our mission here at Lincoln Trail College and frankly it's an important part of the community college mission all across the country," said President Dr. Ryan Gower., in a release provided by the college. "We are very blessed in our region to have excellent base and manufacturing jobs and these are employers like Lincoln Land Agri-Energy, Marathon, Dana, Hershey, the hospital and a significant number of jobs that these employers are looking for are skilled or trade labor positions.

"Not long ago I was reading a report that said south of Interstate 70, about 80 percent of the jobs only require a two-year skilled and technical trade degree," Gower added.

Career and Technical Education (CTE) prepares students for high-skill, in-demand employment. Last year, roughly two-thirds of all Illinois community college graduates earned a CTE degree or certificate. CTE programs offer flexible scheduling, work-based learning, and stackable credentials that provide a path from education to employment not only for recent high-school graduates, but also for returning adults, veterans, and workers wanting to update their skills.

To ensure that students acquire the skills and knowledge they need to be successful, programs focus on application of skills in the workplace and offer access to state-of-the-art technology. Students receive academic support services, work-based learning opportunities and business engagement.

Erin Volk is an adviser at LTC. She said the college's career and technical programs are designed so graduates can get a degree or certificate and begin a career immediately. Volk said students entering a CTE program at LTC can expect one-on-one attention and hands-on education.

"Most CTE classes include some kind of lab or hands-on component," she explained. "Take construction, for example; they're building things. They're putting together a finished project that can be used on campus or to help give them a demonstration so they can have a wall with wiring behind it.

"Our Broadband Telecom program is another great one,"Volk said. "They're out there learning how to climb safely and do pole climbing. Students in our certified medical assistant program are learning how to draw blood, check blood pressures, and assist the patient. It's important that they have that aspect where they're physically interacting with it."

She said many standard college classes have some interaction, but are much more lecture-based. "We like to tie the two together so that they're getting theory and background, but they're also getting experience," she said.

One way LTC CTE students are gaining experience is through internships and apprenticeships where students can get on-the-job training.

Gower said the internships are extremely valuable not only because the students get that experience working, but they're also getting soft skills employers value like conflict resolution, interpersonal communication, and a strong work ethic.

"It's one of the fastest-growing opportunities for employment in the United States," Gower said. "When you look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the majority of fields that are growing faster or much faster than average are in the trades."

He also pointed out many of these jobs pay well and do not require a bachelor's degree.

"I think in years past, some people tended to marginalize career and technical education and say that it was only for people who didn't have an academic aptitude to go on to earn a bachelor's degree, and that is fundamentally untrue," Gower said. "We see students in our career and technical education programs that would be right at home in engineering programs at the University of Illinois. The reason they're in those trades is that the salary and the job outlook is really quite strong."

Volk said LTC works hard to make sure what's taught aligns with the needs of business and industry. LTC's CTE programs use advisory councils of business and industry leaders who study the curriculum and recommend how to keep the college on the leading edge of industry trends.

Volk said CTE faculty teach from having actually had careers in the field. "Our faculty has a wealth of experience. They've had full careers in the areas where they teach," she said. "They know and understand the industry and they can pass along a tremendous amount of first-hand knowledge to our students."

"We want them to see the salaries they can earn and we want them to know how strong the job outlook is," said Gower. "We want to help them understand that pursuing a CTE degree or certificate is not a plan B, but it's actually a very viable first choice."

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